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Transcending Silence

On a steamy morning in the Amazon rainforest of Ecuador I garden with a group of Indigenous Achuar women, harvesting beautiful cassava that will later be chewed and fermented to make chicha. The Achuar women possess formidable strength, skill, and spiritual insight into the art of gardening. Then a statement stops me in my tracks: one of the women says if her garden does not yield a good crop, it is her fault; her husband will beat her as punishment. Her statement is made without emotion; it is an accepted part of her culture and her life.

On a muggy evening in Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo, I sit with a group of women: Congolese, Liberian, American, and Canadian. The African women season the circle with exquisite colorful clothing and joyful songs. We hear their stories: Armed men. Dragged into the forest. Kidnapped as a sex slave. Too many rapists to count. Fistula. Impregnated by my father at age 14. HIV. Rejected by my family and village. My ears hear the horrors of a conflict zone from women who have survived.

On an arid evening in the United States, a group of courageous women gathers for listening and mutual support. Some of us are Indigenous to this continent, some are of European descent. We hear a story of gang rape by 11 men; the perpetrators walk free and continue to harass the survivor. A seven year old child nearly killed by his father two nights before. He and his mother escape in the middle of the night with only their lives, rejected by their families and community. No place to go that feels like home.

My perception of the world shifts in these moments, cracking open my shell of privilege and the blinding denial that comes with it. Blessings about in my life and our overabundant American culture makes it far too easy to take them for granted - clean water, plentiful food, education, human rights, a supportive partner, access to medical care, and the ability to choose what is done to my body, and by whom.

As a privileged woman, I’ve journeyed to various parts of the earth where I have had the honor of sitting in diverse circles of women. By listening to my sisters throughout the globe, I have integrated the truth that the blessings peppering my existence are only a dream for so many. It is one thing to know this in one’s head, as we all do on some level. It is another thing to hold the hand of a survivor, see the sameness in her eyes, and integrate it into one’s heart and cellular awareness.

One in three women will experience violence in her lifetime. That is the statistic we all know. But what is the heart of this matter, which pervades every culture, nationality, religion, race, class, and occupation? What lies at its core?

Through my travels, a certain truth has been unveiled: thousands of years ago, a great silencing began. It was a silencing of women, yes; but also a silencing of men. As human exploration and conquest expanded throughout the globe, the wounds of colonization and genocide created deep pain and separation. This profound hurt is still with us today, in the form of gender based violence, intergenerational violence, privilege, oppression, and historical trauma living within every part of the human family. I am witness to the fact that hurt people hurt people, and silence keeps the pattern of hurting in place.

My vision is to be part of healing the legacies of human trauma so humanity can return to a more balanced state. I have come to understand that no amount of justice, accountability, or entitlement through legal systems will remedy our trauma legacies. Healing ourselves as one human family must be an integral part of the process.

In my community, I work to facilitate healing by gathering groups of women together in circles. Using art, ritual, movement, meditation, and self-expression we explore who we are underneath the layers of silencing. Affirming our strengths and our vision, we rely on the support of the elements, Earth, and each other to transform the trauma that lives inside us.

One of the challenges of this work is having its validity understood. As an inherently feminine process, it can easily be marginalized. But I know I’m on the right track when I see diverse women together in circle sharing, trusting, seeing each other, and affirming our collective power. It lights me up to see women standing taller, with their eyes brighter, feeling into their inherent sovereignty and beauty, and being witnessed by sisters who share their process. I see the world being lit up and healed by countless circles of women who walk in dignity, raising their voices for peace.

Gender-based Violence
Human Rights
Northern America
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